A lot of debate has taken place on the recent incidents of cleaning up of remote and high altitude areas of tourist waste by the Indian Army. In the first year of NDA rule when the yoga mats flew away, due to a storm a day prior to the world yoga day; the Army was pressed into action to lay the mats and some enthusiasts among senior army officers in Delhi were noted for the photo operations in the company of PM and other dignitaries.
The Army also laid pontoon bridges upon the Yamuna river for organisation of a huge rally by a godman who enjoys patronage of the ruling government. The army has been allegedly deployed to clean the sacred Ganga river. At a solemn function as the Retreat after the Independence Day, the combined services band was made to include Bollywood tunes, literally dancing to the tunes of the government of the day; throwing ethos and tradition to the winds. Where are we headed with this and where and by whom will the line be drawn?
It is strongly felt in the veteran circles that the government has crossed the line in treating its elite Armed Forces as per its whims and fancies. It is adversely affecting the moral fibre and the morale of the proud men and women in uniform. By tampering with the succession order, the government is also encouraging rise of compliant senior officers over the efficient ones. The confidence of the rank and file and junior officers in their higher command is fast eroding as they feel that the seniors are only giving orders for self serving purposes with scant respect for the ethos and elan of the services.
In the present case of cleaning the muck of irresponsible civilian tourists in remote areas; it has now been clarified that no formal orders have come from the Raksha Mantri (RM) as it first appeared to be, and in turn, the service headquarters have also not passed any such orders. The RM had obliquely remarked that Ministry of water conservation which is responsible for Swatch Bharat Abhyaan in rural and remote areas expressed the desire that probably the army could be of help in such inaccessible areas.
It seems some intermediary exuberant commanders passed instructions in good faith or in order to get noticed by the powers that be. Some of them have gone overboard by holding brooms in uniform and trying to emulate politicians. We are from an army, where when we joined; you were looked down upon if you carried your own child while in uniform. Imagine how pleased Pakistanis will be with such pictures in their propaganda to show the Indian troops down!
Although Congress also systematically degraded the stature of the Armed Forces at the time of independence and then successively during the pay commission through envious bureaucrats and retired members of judiciary; to their credit, they did not interfere in the internal functioning of the army and respected the institutional norms. It seems that the present establishment has either misunderstood the meaning of civilian control or is as arrogant as in all other matters concerning governance. Did we hear them say less governance is better governance ?
Successive appointments of inexperienced, lightweight politicians as RMs who are not duly elected and have less acceptance amongst masses, let alone soldiers, is further aggravating the situation. There is no dearth of retired experienced senior officers and NDA government would do well to pick up RM and RRM from this fraternity. The Ministry of Defence needs to be given the importance it deserves and national security must rest with armed forces and not with police officers who are best suited for internal security of the country. The service headquarters should be fully integrated with the ministry with experts being part of decision making.
In a recent social event with a few senior army officers, they expressed their inability to change things because all powers are being centralised with the three chiefs. The armed forces, like the judiciary, should have a collegium consisting of all army commanders and Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) and important policy decision should be taken through mutual discussion with equal voting rights and proceedings should be recorded. Service chiefs would serve the forces well if they did not express their mind on all issues prior to discussion.
Having seen and worked with over fifty armies of the world in United Nations I feel we still have one of the most apolitical, dedicated and efficient army in the world and it is the responsibility of all Indians to ensure it remains at the top. The politicians and bureaucrats have a great responsibility towards the armed forces, the last bastion of the nation, who are custodians of national security.